Close Calls: top teams in the clutch

The Celtics just learned how long Kevin Garnett will be out, but it’s possible that even a slight drop in the level of play while he is unavailable could result in a two week skid. Thus far this season, the C’s have played 30 games, 13 of which have been decided by two possessions (six points) or less. That they’ve won 10 of these tight bouts is impressive, but one wonders how losing their best player in terms of plus-minus (Garnett is plus .300 pts/minute this season) will impact their ability to eek out tight games.

Garnett’s absence nearly derailed the Celtics’ season in 2009, so fans must be pleased he’ll only be sidelined for a couple weeks.

From a broader perspective, the fact that the Celtics have been playing so many tight games can be viewed in one of two ways. Positively, it shows that the Celtics execute expertly down the stretch. Being able to win close games is generally valued as an important quality for post-season success and an indicator that a team is cool in clutch spots. But the fact that 42% of their wins have come down to the final possessions is also a sign that their 24-6 record may not proclaim the dominance implied by the Celtics’ record.

After noticing this, I wondered if it was normal for such a dominant team to win so many games by so few points. I checked out all other teams on pace to win 50 games, and found that Boston is not alone, but also in strange company.

When we weight the age of teams by minutes played, Boston is the third oldest team. The oldest team is the Dallas Mavericks, who have played 15 games decided by six points or less and won 11 of them. This would to suggest that veteran teams are the most clutch in the league, though the Lakers are 4-6 in such games and are the second oldest team in the league (again, weighting age by minutes played).

However no team is getting by on less than the Oklahoma City Thunder, who’ve secured half of their 22 wins by six points or less. Is this the result of clutch play, great coaching or luck? I don’t know, but it warrants further investigation.

Of teams projected to win 50 plus games, only the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat have lost more close games than they’ve won. This may not be all bad, as Neil Paine of noted, winning blowouts is more important than winning tight games. The Heat are certainly accomplishing that goal, winning 15 of their last 16 games with 13 of those victories coming by 10 points or more.

Unsurprisingly, the league’s best team, the San Antonio Spurs, are a phenomenal 10-1 in tight games, including a six point victory over the Mavs last night.

Below is a complete list of how many close games top teams are playing, and how they’re faring in these contests.


Related posts:

  1. The East Regional semifinals: A Tale of (My) Two Teams
  2. The Boston Celtics’ Secret To Efficient Crunch Time Scoring


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